It was a bit of a surprise, two weeks ago, to awake to this:
Whilst it’s not at all unheard of to have snowfall in April, it is much more unusual to have quite this extent of settled snow.
It’s a very different proposition for the garden to have real snow this late. In winter, the trees are bare, the branches light and snow poses little problem. But in April, with blossom and buds and even full leaf, it’s all a bit troubling.
The Magnolia and cherry blossom certainly didn’t think too much to it; the pure white blossom turning quickly to a mushy brown.
And the poor little lambs had a very tough night with the cold, wet and wind combining in a sadly fatal perfect storm for some.
The farmers here are just wonderful. It’s taken four years for them to work up to telling me a bit more about the harsh realities of farming. I’ve learnt so much from them and find it fascinating to understand, but they do protect me from the worst: they are up early checking the stock and I have yet to see a poorly lamb.
It was a joy to see number 96A that morning. Ewes can only support two lambs, yet quite a few give birth to three. So the farmers convince a mother of one to take an extra, the extra being an A, adopted. Just look at the love you can sense between them.
Yet despite the snow, it’s been a month of bright sunshine most days. No one can believe how dry it has been – only the snow to proffer any source of moisture. The clear skies have caused frosts most nights and we’ve all been feeling somewhat discombobulated as we desperately water our plants in thermals and bobble hats!
It’s consequently been a slow old month for growth, but what a month for that to happen. Isn’t springtime one of our favourites?
We’ve been watching it in slow motion, stretching out the enjoyment for a few extra weeks.
This is the month the garden reveals itself for the year. We’re hugely a garden of self-seeders and free will for all plants – nature knows much better what works than I ever will. And that means the garden significantly changes year on year. Sometimes one species dominates, another it’s another.
So, it’s a time of getting to know the garden all over again. The forget-me-nots gone from the washing line bed but smothering the area by the back door. Only one solitary honesty by the big holly bush this year, but a trail of it fills the gaps left by the forget-me-nots. It’s such a thrill to see what the year has in store, wondering why it’s decided to change. Gradually learning the behaviour of each species and seeing which bed fellows get on best with each other. I love that nothing is static.
I always feel in April that the place starts to look like a real garden again. All the gaps and bare soil in winter give me a sense that there is so much more to do before I can really say I have a ‘garden’.
Yet as the month progresses, the gaps fill with luscious, fresh, green growth and the tapestry of plants feels more complete. The tapestry improves so much each year, as nature and I add, move and delete, yet every year it is full with one thing or another.
I love the rustic boundary borders more than anything else. In peak summer you need some of the colour of more formal herbaceous perennials in a large country garden – it’s not complete without them. Yet the boundaries, which started life (in Paul and my time) as monocrops of nettles have evolved in such a satisfying way.
Any normal gardener would have dug out the nettles, replanted and kept everything neat and tidy. But over our four years here, I’ve just pulled the tops off the things I don’t like – the nettles, sticky weed and couch – and allowed whatever else is lurking to flourish.
I can’t bear the ground in these outer areas to look depleted, even for a month or two. I don’t want them to look as though I’ve had any hand to play at all.
Anyone would think the purple-flowering ground ivy, the foxgloves and woodruff just happened to exist as they see it. Yet it’s these rough, ‘wild’ areas that I spend 90% of my time on. The clearly defined perennial beds being a million times easier to keep.
We’re clearly doing something right for the wildlife too. Despite there being less general undergrowth, our population of deer and hares just expands every year. Last night we had two muntjacs sniffing around outside the sitting room window, three roe deer performing ballet on the middle lawn and a couple of hares chasing each other around the wildflower meadow. There’s something strangely heart-warming about them all sharing the garden so amicably.
I’m not sure which generations are going to win out. We found a baby muntjac in the woodland this month and the somewhat less amiable interactions between the two generations of roes is still ongoing. I’m amazed the younger buck hasn’t got the message yet, but no, he’s not deterred by being chased off the turf by big Daryl each and every morning. He returns to climb the steps up to munch through my plants by the house. I do usually win the stare-off if I catch him in the act!
Whilst Harry the hare keeps popping up on the orchard (goodness only knows how he is getting in), we have successfully kept the deer out since September. And oh, what a difference it makes. We have carpets of bluebells for the first time ever, and real, whole leaves on our three-year-old lilacs.
I’m so pleased we decided to divide the garden in two – we love the deer, but we do love bluebells and lilac too!
We have red kites nesting in the woodland for the first time and they make an appearance at the pond most days. I’m a little nervous that these huge birds are going to wreck the somewhat fragile ‘kingfisher’ perch they seem to think is for them, but it’s fun to see them nevertheless.
We’ve finally had rain this week and soft pastel pinks, blues and yellow are starting to flood the garden. It’s hard to imagine two weeks ago we had only a blanket of snow.
But it’s been such a pleasure to have all the sunshine and to watch the garden unveil itself in slow motion during this wonderful season of surprise. Let’s just hope I can keep up with the inevitably lively rate of new growth, now the injection of rain has arrived!